“Cornell history courses incorporate movies, travel to the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, and the Meskwaki Tribal Reservation — all because of the flexibility of OCAAT. With OCAAT we can immerse ourselves in our subject, and from different perspectives examine books, articles, letters, speeches, and more.”
- Phil Lucas, Professor of History
Why Study History?
Ideas, institutions, and patterns of behavior develop over time, and an understanding of the historical context of human existence is central to a liberal arts education. Studying history requires the ability to interpret texts and documents of great variety and to develop critical evaluation skills. It is also essential to understand that people of the past did not merely dress and speak differently, but that their understanding of the world was far different from that of today. We make every effort to introduce students to those assumptions that informed individuals of other times and underlay their institutions.
We judge ourselves successful when students demonstrate that they can think clearly and write cogently, and we work closely with student to develop these skills. Many of our majors pursue graduate school, both in history and in related fields such as law and international relations. Our students also frequently become teachers in the secondary schools. Double majors are common at Cornell, and history provides an excellent complement for training in many fields.
Our focus is on the history of Western Civilization, particularly European and U.S. history, with occasional courses available in Islamic, Asian and Latin American history. Specific areas covered in U.S. history are the Colonial Period, Civil War and Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights movement. The courses in European History deal with social and institutional history from the middle ages to the present. Spain and modern Russia (including the USSR) are countries of particular interest.
Cornell's One Course At A Time schedule makes possible in-depth discussions and focused classroom work, as well as a number of unique learning opportunities. For example, students develop research skills during a block-long seminar at the Newberry Library in Chicago, as well as through independent research blocks. Shorter trips are easily made to local and regional history museums, libraries, and historic sites.
In addition, recent students in Public Memory and Public History performed mini-internships at local historical museums, learning the skills of a growing profession while turning on-site research into a creative class web site. Students can also focus their efforts on in-depth projects such as the creation of documentary oral histories in The Documentary Imagination During the Great Depression.
The Cornell campus and sections of Mt. Vernon are on the National Register of Historic Places giving students an immediate resource for extensive projects in local history, discovering the connections among transportation, commerce, settlement patterns, architecture, and the like.